The legal principle of caveat emptor (‘let the buyer beware’) may date back centuries but it still applies to today’s conveyancing process. It puts the onus squarely on the buyer to find out if there are any physical defects with the property before committing to the transaction. Unfortunately, more than 7 million home buyers don’t bother with a professional property survey, leaving themselves wide open to nasty surprises further down the line.
Here are five important things that can be wrong with a property that the untrained eye may not notice but any RICS Chartered Surveyor worth his salt would certainly pick up.
1. Structural movement
Subsidence and heave are two words no property owner wants to hear. Both are evidence of movements in the building’s foundation. Subsidence tends to occur on buildings that have been built on clay soil or in areas of previous mining activity. Most cases of subsidence are the direct result of tree roots nearby taking up too much moisture from the soil, or drainage leaks washing the soil away from underneath the building.
Heave is the opposite of subsidence, pushing the building upwards when the soil underneath swells up. Cut down a thirsty willow tree near the house without proper advice and you may find that the clay soil becomes overly wet and expands.
Your surveyor will be looking out for tell-tale cracks in brickwork or plasterwork, or sticky doors and windows from misaligned frames. Remedial action typically requires underpinning the foundations, which can be eye-wateringly expensive.
2. Damp problems
Damp in a building is a common enough problem but with potentially serious consequences. Not only will a damp property feel clammy and unpleasant, there may be condensation and mould patches on internal surfaces that create an unhealthy living environment. Prolonged exposure can cause respiratory diseases that range from constant colds to chest infections and asthma.
While our laymen’s noses may be fooled by a fresh coat of paint or a strong whiff of air freshener that have been cleverly used in an attempt to cover up the obvious characteristics of damp, a good surveyor will be able to identify it. “A RICS Home Buyer Survey includes damp meter readings taken from the wall and an assessment of damp proofing in the building,” confirms Brian Gale Surveyors.
Once damp has been detected, effective treatment is relatively straightforward in the early stages. But ignored and left, both penetrating damp and rising damp can be costly to remedy, and significant amounts of decorating will be needed afterwards.
3. Japanese Knotweed
Unless you’re a professional surveyor or gardener, you may not have heard of Japanese Knotweed, and you certainly don’t want it anywhere near your property. This is a highly invasive, destructive oriental plant that spreads like the proverbial wildfire, growing at an incredible 10cm per day! A 1cm section of underground stem can produce a new plant in as little as 10 days.
Tough and persistent, Japanese Knotweed can inflict serious damage to your house by penetrating walls and concrete, eroding building foundations, blocking drainage pipes and causing flooding. This nightmare plant is estimated to affect circa five per cent of homes in the UK, and the worst-case scenario really is the worst case you can think of: you may have to knock the building down and build again. Little wonder, then, that mortgage companies are not keen approving finance for properties known to be infested by the dreaded Knotweed.
Getting to grips with this pernicious plant and getting rid of it is not easy, and you need to contact your local authority to find out how to dispose of it safely. If your survey turns up Japanese Knotweed, you may want to reconsider the purchase altogether.
4. Woodworm attack
Tiny holes in woodwork, crumbling sections of timber and evidence of beetles in timber? Chances are that the building is infested with woodworm. Interestingly, woodworm is not actually caused by worms but by beetles, the larvae of woodboring beetles, to be precise. And they can cause havoc in properties of all ages. From ancient timber-framed cottages to new builds, no property is safe from attack.
Left undealt with, woodworm can cause serious damage to the integrity of the building, especially if structural timbers are affected. From weakening floorboards, ceiling joists and any other timber elements in the property, the damage may be such that sections of timber need to be removed and replaced, which can be awkward, messy and expensive.
Your surveyor will look for evidence of new exit holes and dust around the holes, as well as weak floorboards or beams, a sure sign of an active infestation which, if spotted, will need urgent professional treatment.
5. Rat infestation
It’s common knowledge that rats carry diseases and spread harmful bacteria including E. coli and salmonella. They can also transfer fleas, ticks and mites to pets and humans. In short, you don’t want rats anywhere in or near your home.
Unfortunately, rats can get into incredibly small spaces. Did you know that a baby rat can squeeze into a 1cm square hole? If you spot evidence of rat activity in your garden, act fast to stop them getting into your home. Block up every conceivable hole you can find and check your pipework and guttering too so they can’t gain access via broken pipes or through sewers.
Even if you don’t see any live animals, the presence of rats is also announced by typical signs and symptoms of pest infestation such as the smell of ammonia, small sausage shaped droppings and scratching noises. You may also find signs of destructive activity such as chewed cables and wires, or torn food packaging.